Marilyn Ruestman, former Missouri State Representative and Newton County Presiding Commissioner, will be honored as the recipient of the 2019 Annie Baxter Award during a ceremony set for Thursday, May 2, in the North End Zone Facility at Missouri Southern State University.
The private luncheon will be emceed by Dr. Ree Wells-Lewis, head of the Sociology Department. Dr. Natalie Grecu, assistant professor of communication, will serve as the keynote speaker. It will begin with lunch at noon, followed by the program at 12:30 p.m. Members of the media are invited to attend.
Established in 1990, the award is presented annually to a prominent Missouri woman who makes noticeable contributions to her community in the spirit of Annie Baxter.
Baxter was elected as the Jasper County clerk in 1890. She was the first woman to hold elective office in the state of Missouri, and the first female county clerk in the United States.
Ruestman describes her own career in public service as happening “almost by accident.”
“I was very involved with the Chamber of Commerce and got involved in committee work,” she says. “Then, while attending MSSU, I took a course called Students in Free Enterprise. We went to a competition (in the early 1980s) in New York for developing programs to educate students on the free enterprise system. I ended up being the presenter and we came in second in the nation.
“That got me involved in the system of hour our country works. During that time, I met U.S. Congressman Mel Hancock and went to work for him after he was elected.”
She served as district assistant for Hancock from 1989-96 and as district director for Missouri State Senator Marvin Singleton.
She later served as a Republican state representative, representing parts of McDonald and Newton counties in the Missouri House of Representatives from 2003-10.
During her time as a state representative, she was elected the Majority Caucus Secretary in 2005, 2007 and 2009. She was elected treasurer of the freshman class of the 92nd General Assembly, president of the Women Legislators of Missouri and was appointed to the Missouri Women’s Council.
Ruestman also served two terms as Presiding Commissioner of Newton County. She was elected for a four-year term in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. She retired on Jan. 1, 2019.
Her years in public service have given her a deeper appreciation for her country, she says.
“Over the years, I became more and more devoted to the kind of society we have,” she says. “It’s based on individual responsibility, and there are wonderful opportunities that I don’t see in other places.
“I really believe our representative system is great and wish more people would become involved and participate in it.”
She is co-owner of Ruestman Real Estate Development Company. The Ruestman family has been in real estate development in the Joplin/Newton County area since 1947.
A recipient of the Woman of the Year from the Missouri Federated Republican Women, Ruestman’s recognitions include the Joplin Tri-State Business Journal’s Most Influential Women of 2009; the 2007 Presidential Choice Award from the Jefferson City Branch NAACP; and the Missouri Bar Association’s Legislator of the Year. She was named MSSU’s Outstanding Alumni in 2003 and has served on the Alumni board.
She attended Neosho and Noel schools and holds associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She and her husband, Richard, have three children.